Earworms: Everybody's Had Them


Yeah that's right, I bet you've had earworms before.  I know it sounds a little gross, especially since you're probably imaging the kinds of worms that we learned about in class a couple weeks ago coming out of your ears.  But think again, my friends!  Unlike the wormy kid example from lecture, I really doubt earworms are dangerous, harmful to your health, or will make you stupid.


Earworms, as defined by dictionary.com, are what you call a song that's stuck in your head.  An article on Exploratorium describes an earworm as a "cognitive itch" that can only be scratched by repeating a song in your mind over and over again.  Other common names for earworms are stuck-song-syndrome and sticky music.


Screen shot 2012-09-19 at 6.05.34 PM.png

But why would you say this happens?  As Dr. Williamson is quoted saying in the BBC article Earworms: Why Songs Get Stuck in Our Heads, "I personally couldn't believe how little there was in terms of research on this phenomenon."  This is such a common occurrence and somehow there's such little explanation of why it happens!  I know from personal experience that earworms are a constant struggle.  I'll get that Rebecca Black hit (if you could call it that) "Friday" stuck in my head every week and despite all efforts, I can't get it out of my head.  It's an endless loops for most of the day.

Although scientists haven't yet figured out why it happens, they have been able to explain the possible relationship between music and memory.  For many people, music is an emotional, multi-sensory experience.  Because of this, we encode it and recall it based a multitude of factors.  The article continues, "the combination of rhythm, rhyme, and melody provides reinforcing cues that make songs easier to remember than words alone. "  This may explain why we remember Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" (B-A-N-A-N-A-S) when spelling the fruit.

Screen shot 2012-09-19 at 6.14.28 PM.png


So SC 200, what are your thoughts on this phenomenon?  Can you find any more research out there explaining why we get these cognitive worms?  And of course, share your current earworm with the class.

Check out DJ Earworm, a clever mash-up artist.  After reading this, can ya dig the play on words?



Info and Photo Sources:










very unique post idea. I think the research provided is pretty concrete, but also from being a musician myself and learning about the theories of music, I know that a basic "pop" song like Friday from Rebecca Black is real easy to remember because of the simplicity of the composition: specifically, there are only four chords in that song. I think the repetitive nature of the song can also contribute the ear-worm factor much easier as oppose to a classical piece like Moonlight Sonata.

This is a very interesting topic. I've wondered why Call Me Maybe was the anthem for last semester for some time now. I actually did some research as to why songs get stuck in our heads and found two theories. One is that an earworm is "a mild musical hallucination" and the other is "that earworms are a side effect of your brain trying to consolidate memories". The second theory makes sense for me because whenever I would hear Call Me Maybe I was at a party and playing the song in my head would allow me to reminisce about the fun I was having. Gangnam Style is my earworm now.

Leave a comment

Subscribe to receive notifications of follow up comments via email.
We are processing your request. If you don't see any confirmation within 30 seconds, please reload your page.

Search This Blog

Full Text  Tag

Recent Entries

Alcohol and Energy Drinks
We've all heard of Four Lokos (or "blackout in a can") and the drama surrounding them when they first came…
It isn't up to the Keratin
Many girls who have naturally curly, wavy, or frizzy hair have started looking into getting keratin treatments at their local…
It isn't up to the Keratin
Many girls who have naturally curly, wavy, or frizzy hair have started looking into getting keratin treatments at their local…

Old Contributions